Independence officials want to put a tighter squeeze on business they deem illicit.
Instead of concentrating on individuals such as clerks involved with transactions of illegal materials, city officials discussed their desire to hold the whole business more accountable during Monday's Council study session.
“We want to have businesses that are in concert with the community,” City Manager Robert Heacock said in an interview later in the week. “There’s existing authority – we’ve been using it with the hearing procedure related to liquor licenses.
“Right now, there isn’t a mechanism that impacts the business itself. They can arrest or cite somebody for selling illegal material, but there’s a desire to hold the business owner accountable. The hearing process allows them to come forward and say why it shouldn’t happen.”
In short, it’s a more proactive approach.
“From a lot of what we've seen, it would be almost impossible for the owner not to know what’s happening,” Police Chief Tom Dailey told Council. “I think this is a huge step for the city. It sends a clear message to those who run a criminal enterprise.
“What we’re thinking with this is,” Dailey said afterwards, “once we confirm they’re conducting illegal activities, the business license is automatically taken away or suspended.”
“We did spend a great deal of time making sure that, the businesses we’re dealing with, we’re not violating their due process,” James Harlow, the city’s director of finance, said at Monday’s meeting.
“We’re not doing anything Draconian here,” Heacock added.
Heacock said the hope is to have this policy go into effect Feb. 1.
“In the past we haven’t followed up on businesses that were bad actors,” Council Member Curt Dougherty said during Monday’s meeting, referring to businesses that have numerous health code violations or are reputed places for drug transactions as a “blemish” that “suck the life out of a community.”
Dougherty said, after discussions with city officials about this issue, he has found the city has the tools and resources in place to combat it.
“The citizens have told me they’ve had enough,” Dougherty said. “They would rather see an empty building than one that’s causing crime.”
“Other cities have comparable regulations in the book,” Heacock said. “There’s a real public interest in the neighborhoods around these businesses. We’re trying to be fair and reasonable, but at the same time hold business accountable.
“You need a license to run a business, and a business license is not a right to have – it’s a privilege.”